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The Ego

by Johann Gottlieb Fichte

We have to search for the absolute, first, and unconditioned fundamental principle of human
knowledge. It cannot be proven, nor determined if it is to be absolute first principle.
This principle is to express that deed-act which does not occur among the empirical
determinations of our consciousness, nor can so occur, since it is rather the basis of all
consciousness, and first and alone makes consciousness possible. In representing this deed-act
it is not so much to be feared that my readers will not think what they ought to think, as that
they will think what they ought not to think. This renders necessary a reflection on what may
perhaps for the present be taken for that deed-act, and an abstraction from all that does not
really belong to it.
Even by means of this abstracting reflection, that deed-act, which is not empirical fact of
consciousness, cannot become fact of consciousness but by means of this abstracting
reflection we may recogni!e so much" that this deed-act must necessarily be thought as the
basis of all consciousness.
The laws according to which this deed-act must necessarily be thought as basis of human
knowledge, or, which is the same, the rules according to which that abstracting reflection
proceeds, have not yet been proven as valid, but are for the present tacitly presupposed as
well known and agreed upon. #s we proceed we shall deduce them from that fundamental
principle, the establishment whereof is correct only if they are correct. This is a circle, but an
unavoidable circle. #nd since it is unavoidable and freely admitted, it is also allowable to
appeal to all the laws of general logic in establishing this highest fundamental principle.
In undertaking this abstracting reflection, we must start from some proposition which every
one will admit without dispute. $oubtless there are many such. We choose the one which
seems to us to open the shortest road to our purpose. In admitting this proposition, the deed-
act, which we intend to make the basis of our whole science of knowledge, must be admitted"
and the reflection must show that this deed-act is admitted the moment that proposition is
%ur course of proceeding in this reflection is as follows #ny fact of empirical consciousness,
admitted as such valid proposition, is taken hold of, and from it we separate one of its
empirical determinations after the other, until only that remains, which can no longer be
separated and abstracted from.
#s such admitted proposition we take this one # is #.
Every one admits this proposition, and without the least hesitation. It is recogni!ed by all as
completely certain and evident.
If any one should ask a proof of its certainty, no one would enter upon such a proof, but
would say This proposition is absolutely (that is, without any further ground) certain; and by
saying this would ascribe to himself the power of absolutely positing something.
In insisting on the in-itself certainty of the above proposition, you posit not that # is. The
proposition # is # is by no means e&uivalent to # is. Being when posited without predicate is
something &uite different from being when posited with a predicate. 'et us suppose # to
signify a space enclosed within two straight lines, then the proposition # is # would still be
correct" although the proposition # is would be false, since such a space is impossible.
(ut you posit by that proposition If # is, then # is. The &uestion whether # is at all or not,
does not, therefore, occur in it. The content of the proposition is not regarded at all merely its
form. The &uestion is not whereof you know, but what you know of any given sub)ect. The
only thing posited, therefore, by that proposition is the absolutely necessary connection
between the two #*s. This connection we shall call +.
In regard to # itself nothing has as yet been posited. The &uestion, therefore, arises ,nder
what condition is #-
+ at least is in the Ego, and posited through the Ego, for it is the Ego, which asserts the above
proposition, and so asserts it by virtue of + as a law, which + or law must, therefore, be given
to the Ego" and, since it is asserted absolutely, and without further ground, must be given to
the Ego through itself.
Whether and how # is posited we do not know" but since + is to designate a connection
between an unknown positing of # .of the first # in the proposition # is #/ and a positing of
the same #, which latter positing is absolute on condition of the first positing, it follows that
#, at least in so far as that connection is posited, is posited in and through the Ego, like +.
0roof + is only possible in relation to an #" now + is really posited in the Ego" hence, also,
# must be posited in the Ego, in so far as + is related to it.
+ is related to that #, in the above proposition, which occupies the logical position of sub)ect,
and also to that # which is the predicate, for both are united by +. (oth, therefore, are posited
in the Ego, in so far as they are posited" and the # of the predicate is posited absolutely if the
first one is posited. 1ence the above proposition may be also expressed If # is posited in the
Ego, then it is posited, or then it is.
1ence, by means of +, the Ego posits" that # is absolutely for the asserting Ego, and is
simply because it is posited in the Ego or that there is something in the Ego which always
remains the same, and is thus able to connect or posit and hence the absolutely posited +
may also be expressed, Ego2Ego, or I am I.
Thus we have already arrived at the proposition I am; not as expression of a deed-act, it is
true, but, at least, as expression of a fact.
3or + is absolutely posited" this is a fact of empirical consciousness, as shown by the
admitted proposition. 4ow + signifies the same as I am I" hence, this proposition is also
absolutely posited.
(ut Ego is Ego, or I am I, has &uite another significance than # is #. 3or the latter
proposition had content only on a certain condition, namely, if # is posited. (ut the
proposition I am I is unconditionally and absolutely valid, since it is the same as +" it is valid
not only in form but also in content. In it the Ego is posited not on condition, but absolutely,
with the predicate of self-e&uality" hence, it is posited, and the proposition may also be
expressed, I am.
This proposition, I am, is as yet only founded upon a fact, and has no other validity than that
of a fact. If 5#2#5 .or +/ is to be certain, then 5I am5 must also be certain. 4ow, it is fact of
empirical consciousness that we are compelled to regard + as absolutely certain" hence, also
5I am5 is certain, since it is the ground of the +. It follows from this, that the ground of
explanation of all facts of empirical consciousness is this before all positing, the !go must
be posited through itself.
I say of all facts" and to prove this I must show that + is the highest fact of empirical
consciousness, is the basis of all others, and contained in all other facts" which, perhaps,
would be admitted by all men, without proof, although the whole science of knowledge busies
itself to prove it.
The proposition # is # is asserted. (ut all asserting is an act of the human mind" for it has all
the conditions of such an act in empirical consciousness, which must be presupposed as well
known and admitted in order to advance our reflection. 4ow, this act is based on something
which has no higher ground, namely + or I am.
1ence, that which is absolutely posited and in itself grounded is the ground of a certain .we
shall see hereafter of all) acting of the human mind" hence its pure character" the pure
character of activity in itself, altogether abstracting from its particular empirical conditions.
The positing of the Ego through itself is, therefore, the pure activity of the Ego. The Ego
posits itself" and the Ego is by virtue of this mere self-positing. #gain, "ice "ersa the Ego is
and posits its being, by virtue of its mere being. It is both the acting and the product of the act"
the active and the result of the activity" deed and act in one" and hence the I am is expressive
of a deed-act" and of the only possible deed-act, as our science of knowledge must show.
'et us again consider the proposition I am I. The Ego is absolutely posited. 'et us assume that
the first Ego of this proposition .which has the position of formal sub)ect/ is the absolutely
posited Ego, and that the second Ego .that of the predicate/ is the being Ego" then the
absolutely valid assertion that both are one signifies the Ego is, because it has posited itself.
This is, indeed, the case according to the logical form of the proposition. In #2# the first # is
that which is posited in the Ego, .either absolutely, like the Ego itself, or conditionally, like
any non-Ego/ and in this positing of # the Ego is absolutely sub)ect" and hence the first # is
also called the sub)ect. (ut the second # designates that which the Ego, in now making itself
the ob)ect of its own reflection discovers thus as posited in itself, .since it has )ust before itself
posited the # in itself/. The Ego, in asserting that proposition #2#, predicates in truth not
something of #, but of itself, namely, that it has found an # posited in itself" and hence the
second # is called predicate.
The Ego in the former and the Ego in the latter significance are to be absolutely E&ual. 1ence,
the above proposition may be turned around, and then it reads The Ego posits itself simply
because it is. It posits itself through its mere being, and is through its mere being posited.
This, then, will explain clearly in what significance we here use the word Ego .I/, and will
lead us to a definite explanation of the Ego as absolute sub)ect. The Ego as absolute sub)ect is
that, the being, essence, whereof consists merely in positing itself as being. #s soon as it
posits itself, it is" and as soon as it is, it posits itself" and hence the Ego is for the Ego absolute
and necessary. Whatsoever is not for itself is not an Ego.
The &uestion has been asked. What was I before I became self-conscious- The answer is, I
was not at all, for I was not I. The Ego is only, in so far as it is conscious of itself. The
possibility of that &uestion is grounded upon mixing up of the Ego as sub#ect, and the Ego as
ob#ect of the reflection of the absolute sub)ect" and is in itself altogether improper. The Ego
represents itself, and in so far takes itself up in the form of representation, and now first
becomes a somewhat, that is, an ob)ect. 6onsciousness receives in this form of representation
a substrate, which is, even without the real consciousness, and which, moreover, is thought
bodily. 7uch a condition is thought, and the &uestion asked. What was the Ego at that time-
that is, what is the substrate of consciousness- (ut even in this thought you unconsciously
add in thin$ing the absolute sub#ect as looking at that substrate" and hence you unconsciously
add in thought the very thing whereof you wanted to abstract, and thus you contradict
yourself. The truth is, you cannot think anything at all without adding in thought your Ego as
self-conscious" you cannot abstract from your self-consciousness" and all &uestions of the
above kind are not to be answered, since maturely considered, they cannot be asked.
If the Ego is only so far as it posits itself, then it also is only for the positing, and posits only
for the being Ego. %he !go is for the !go; but if it posits itself absolutely, as it is, then it
posits itself necessarily, and is necessary for the Ego. I am only for me; but for me I am
necessarily. .(y saying for me, I already posit my being./ %o posit itself and to be is, applied
to the Ego, the same. 1ence, the proposition I am because I have posited myself, can also be
expressed" I am absolutely because I am.
#gain, the Ego as positing itself and the Ego as being are one and the same. The Ego is as
what it posits itself and posits itself as what it is. 1ence, I am absolutely what I am.
The immediate expression of the thus developed deed-act may be given in the following
formula I am absolutely because I am, and I am absolutely what I am for myself.
If this narration of the original deed-act is to be placed at the head of a science of knowledge
as its highest fundamental principle, it may perhaps be best expressed thus
%he !go posits originally its own being.
.In other words, the Ego is necessarily identity of sub)ect and ob)ect" is itself sub)ect-ob)ect"
and it is this without further meditation./
We started from the proposition #2#, not as if the proposition, I am, could be proven by it,
but because we had to start from some one certain proposition given in empirical
consciousness. #nd our development, also, has shown that #2# does not contain the ground
of 5I am,5 but, on the contrary, that the latter proposition is the ground of the former.
(y abstracting from the content of the proposition I am, and looking merely to its form,
namely, the form of drawing a conclusion from the being posited of something to its being, as
we must abstract for the sake of logic, we thus obtain as fundamental principle of logic the
proposition #2#, which can only be proven and determined through the science of
knowledge. &ro"en for # is # because the Ego which has posited # is the same as the Ego in
which # is posited. 'etermined for whatever is, is only in so far as it is posited in the Ego,
and there is nothing outside of the Ego. 4o possible # .no thing) can be any thing else but an
# posited in the Ego.
(y abstracting, moreover, from all asserting as a determined acting, and looking merely to the
general manner of acting, of the human mind, which is given through that form, we obtain the
category of reality. Every thing to which the proposition #2# is applicable has reality, in so
far as that proposition is applicable to it. That which is posited through the mere positing of
any thing .in the Ego / is its reality, its essence.